How Pop Songs Works, BBC4

by | Jan 9, 2008 | All, Reviews

How this documentary deceives you accepting the orthodoxy of music to accompany you as you gulp down mouthfuls of a seductive sedative in the shape of hot coffee.


Charles Hazelwood says that “pop music can be as rich, affecting and powerful as any symphony”, which was a promising start as he didn’t mark himself out as a classical music snob.

But he concluded this part by claiming that “the ingredients that go into many a pop record remain the same”, which was something he managed to contradict at the end.


Introduced by the Sugababes droning on in their production-line flaccid monotone that so enraptures puerile minds.

Smug producer, adopting the same haughtiness as a wrathful deity, reckoned: “Most pop songs are written within a fifth of an octave. The public don’t want something that’s too complicated.” No, the ‘public’ wants vapid automatons chewing the musical cud they’ve regurgitated from Simon Cowell or some such other faceless record producer.

Guy Chambers also expressed an opinion that John Lennon was the greatest singer in the history of pop but his views on this, and everything else to do with music, are to be assumed to have equal value of Tomas De Torquemada’s views on religious tolerance because of his previous association with musical Anti-Christ Robbie Williams. And compounded by the fact that through his association with Williams he may once have been friends with Robbie Williams’ best friend, and diabolic turd, Jonathan Wilkes.


Nick Ingham: “You need to stick to certain rules – no one is going to play a 15 minute guitar solo. You need to come in quickly and state the message.” Is that why Blue Monday, with its three minute intro, is the best selling 12” single of all time?

John Altman: “You know you’re going to have your intro, a couple of verses, a chorus, another verse, maybe a bridge, a chorus and then you’re out.” The best song of 2007 was Radiohead’s Reckoner, which had a far more amorphous structure.

The Guy Chambers aphorism of corrosive nonsense: “If it’s longer than four minutes it’s probably not saying it clearly enough. You’ve got to take the fat out. The world hasn’t got time to listen to a four minute song.” Utterly incorrect. The only reason this theory is posited is because of the product music fraternity churn out so much dross that they don’t want any potential consumer to ‘waste’ more than three minutes per song as they all cost the same 79p on iTunes.


Richard Niles: “A lyric has to speak in language that everyone can understand.” He hasn’t listened to REM’s Murmur.

The usually sane John Harris is aglow with rhapsody for Dire Straits’ Romeo & Juliet. It doesn’t matter if the lyrics are “spare” they are spoken by the same man who once aspired to crush the 80s in a rusty iron fist of atavistic mediocrity alongside Phil Collins – there can be no compromise or clemency with such criminals.

The Guy Chambers aphorism of corrosive nonsense: “Umbrella is quite sweet, but it is quite confrontational.” Umbrella is something played to human lab rats to give them the illusion that their lives had meaning but in reality they existed as expendable corporate tools.

Phill Jupitus: “Arctic Monkeys are what Oasis could have been. Noel [Gallagher] is very good at dressing up their angst with poetry.” Wrong on two counts – Arctic Monkeys haven’t yet written a song anywhere near as good as Live Forever, and on the other hand Noel Gallagher’s lyrics are mostly rubbish, simply shovelled into songs like cattle being milked purely to fill up the space.

Charles Hazelwood lauds the role of hip-hop in modern lyrics by using the example of the talented Kanye West. He is a fair lyricist, but represents the near-acceptable face of hip-hop for mass audiences. Even with our knowledge of the genre we could think of better examples such as Snoop Dogg (pre-1997), Method Man, Dr Dre and Ghostface Killah.

The wordless hook like too many other elements here focused on the obvious examples rather than the defining cases, such as Kylie’s Na-Na-Na from Can’t Get You Out of My Head or the humdrum Kaiser Chiefs’ Ruby instead of the demented ranting on Afrika Bambaataa’s Planet Rock.


Robbie Williams was featured here immediately rendering it redundant and worthless.

Arrangement and production

Richard Niles: “There are 30 to 40 ways to arrange a pop song – but which is the best and which will connect to the most people?” These may have been his own words, but they could just as easily have come from The Gospel According To Me by Simon Cowell.

Also featured was The Verve’s essence of pomposity Bittersweet Symphony which was the moment ‘Britpop’ plunged into the depths of Hades.

Breaking Rules

In which Hazlewood uses the obvious example of Bohemian Rhapsody as an example of how by breaking ‘the rules’ it’s still possible to produce a stellar pop song – something which anyone who doesn’t buy records at the behest of MTV1 (or 2 for that matter) will have spent the last hour screaming forlornly at the TV set.

Luke Knowles

Luke Knowles


Editor of the website and host of the podcast. A general TV obsessive. I've been running the site since 2008 and you can usually find me in front of the TV. My Favourite show of all time is Breaking Bad with Cracker coming a close second. I feel so passionately that television can change the world and I'm doing my little bit by running this site. You're Welcome!


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